On August 4th 2011, 29-year old Mark Duggan was shot and killed by the police in Tottenham, North London. In the days after the police killing, peaceful demonstrations against the police’s lacking response to the case was followed by increased protests, with riots spreading to other parts of the country. Between the fourth and 11th of August, arson, plundering and window smashing occurred in some of London’s poorest areas including Lewisham, Tottenham Hale, Tower Hamlets, and in cities outside London such as Liverpool, Nottingham, Manchester, Leeds, Leicester and Coventry. As the riots spread, the police instigated a counteroffensive which, among other measures, resulted in mass arrests and stricter sentencing. An analysis by The Guardian (18th August 2011) revealed that around 1,000 convictions related to the riots were given 25 percent longer prison terms than other, similar offences. The strict sentencing displayed a common view of riots per se – not only among the conservative right wing, but also amid the majority of an organised left segment – riots are most often equated with plundering, vandalism and violence.
Strike versus riots. One of the problems as discussed by Joshua Clover in the book Riot. Strike. Riot – The New Era of Uprisings, is that rioting as a collective form of reaction lacks an adequate crisis theory. It is only positioned as a direct opposite to strikes. Where the reactions of the labour movement traditionally demonstrate a clear political organisation demanding better wage conditions and workers’ rights, the rioters’ call for social and political change seems devoid of this. Clover claims that when riots contrast with strike actions, they are reduced to an apolitical disorder where no one seems to know what they want anymore. Despite this, riots are advancing and labour movement strikes retreating. The 2011 riots which began in Tottenham, London, is only one collective action in a series of riots which now can be said to trace its roots back to Watts, Newark, Detroit. There is a line going from Tiananmen Square in 1989, to our own time with Säo Paolo, Gezi Park and San Lazaro. The list is extensive: Clover gives examples of the proto-revolutionary riots in the Tahrir Square, as well as Clichysous-Bois, Oakland, Ferguson and Baltimore. He also describes student occupations such as the one in the Tory headquarters on London’s Millbank in 2010. On the whole, writes Clover, the list of modern day riots goes on and on.
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